It’s kind of hard to miss the fact that my daughters have brown skin. Gorgeous brown skin. When I look at it and touch it, I’m baffled that skin this lovely could ever be considered inferior to skin like mine. If anything, it’s quite the opposite.
Children aren’t colorblind when it comes to skin; no one is. The very first thing we notice about people is what they look like — their face, hair, features, height, weight. And while skin color is something my daughters are aware of through normal observation, race is not. Race is a social construct, with no biological basis. My girls would be considered “black” here in the States, but they’ve never heard the term; Ethiopians generally consider themselves “brown.” Each description carries with it completely different (sometimes directly opposed) associations and connotations, many of which don’t apply to our girls’ lived experience at all. Ancestry is one thing, of course, but racial categories aren’t objective or uniform.
What I wish I could bottle up forever is how my daughters not only view skin color in a matter-of-fact way, but how they believe theirs is nicer than ours. The first few months after they came home, they wanted skin (and hair) “like mommy’s”; but after a few months of our talking about it, pointing out what gives skin its various tones, and casually remarking that their skin is beautiful, they stopped wanting skin like mine. Instead, they now wish we had their skin. B and I always love to share a conversation he had with S on the subject a few months back:
S (talking to B while rubbing her arm, admiring its color): I have pretty brown skin.
B: Yes, your skin is very pretty.
S (looking at B with a sympathetic expression): Daddy, your skin — pink…spotty… Not so pretty.
Out of the mouth of babes.
I think it helps that, when our girls leave the house, they see skin of all shades. We live in a diverse area and encounter people from many different backgrounds. We read books with characters who come from all around the world. We try and provide an environment that allows our daughters to absorb the diversity that exists in the human family. And as we learn about the world in our homeschooling, S and H are better able to place physical differences between people in a more meaningful context.
Sadly, there will come a day when my daughters will encounter the ugly reality that there are people who think their skin color is inferior, and will judge them because of it. I dread that day. But I hope that the longer they grow in confidence about their true beauty and worth now, the more they’ll be able to handle whatever comes their way.
Image: Zoe Saint-Paul